Monday, July 14, 2008

Online Backup Services - Six Questions

During my visit to Denver few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk with folks working with online backup and archive cloud services. Some of my impressions from these discussions are interesting and worth sharing. These are based on what I heard from professionals working for or providing services to online backup service providers. These are not result of a full-blown survey, and at best anecdotal. You are welcome to respond to these questions if you like via comments, emails or your own blog post.

Q1: Who are the primary adopters of Online Backup Services?

Individuals and small businesses.
Entities with fewer than a dozen workstations .
Few with a centralized server.

Q2: What was the primary backup method before adopting online backup?

A USB key or USB attached disk drive.
Few with a share on another workstation.

Q3: What was the offsite backup strategy before adopting online backup?

A Floppy, USB key or CD with important files.
Few with a mobile HD.

Q4: What is the subscription and retention rates for online backup service?

High subscription rate.
Very low retention rate.
Most abandoned service within few weeks.

Q5: What are the primary reasons provided for discontinuing use of online backup service?

Excessive use of Internet connection.
Backup takes too long.
Poor experience during primary use of workstation.

Q6: What was the backup method after discontinuing online backup?

A USB attached disk drive.
A NAS device on network.
Few with no backup method.


Overall, online backup services seems to be a great way to introduce backups to people with no prior backup methods as only few reverted back to no backups after discontinuing use of online backup service. Tape is non-existent in environments that are finding online backups attractive. Despite heightened awareness of online backup service, the low bandwidth connection to Internet continues to be main hurdle in retaining subscribers, a focus on spending limited resources on sales improving or cost reducing services over a fear-based buying decision. A comment I heard was,
I prefer to allocate 50% of Internet bandwidth to VoIP services that reduce my telecommunication cost instead of to offsite backup.


  1. Amazing progress has been made in this area over the last year, but I'm not even sure that many technology companies are aware of what is possible. We offer an offsite backup service that backs up to a local NAS in intervals as frequent as 15 minutes, sends data offsite overnight to minimize impact on operations and can virtualize the server in the event of a failure. If the initial backup is too large to transmit quickly over the internet, we can copy it to a SATA drive and ship it to the remote location.

    Prices vary with the amount of uncompressed space used on the server that needs to be sent offsite, but packages start at $150 for a single server. This seems like a small price to pay to be sure that my small business will be back up and running quickly in the event of a disaster.

  2. Thanks for this article, this was quite interesting to read.
    However, I should note that most efficeinf is a strategy that linda offered in her comment. Onsite backup with staging to online storage.

    However, such scenarios used with a snapshot system backup would require a high speed connection, although this would be much more helpful. BTW, Anil, what do you think of using online storage for a full system snapshot saving? I mean volume backups.

  3. I am curious. Do these backup services use their own infrastructure or are they using Amazon?

    Also what do people backup. I have been a Mozy user and I have had no problems. I do have a high speed connection though and I dont back up my PST files or databases.

    Just docs, music and photos.

  4. Linda,

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. In the end, I believe a hybrid (onsite + online) backup service is needed.

    I will love to learn more about your offering, send a PM if you are interested in sharing details of your service, the feedback you receiving from customers, and the back-end challenges.



  5. I think that a lot of people are put off by the slow speed of the initial backup. Which is a shame, as once the first backup has completed, subsequent backups rarely take more than a few minutes.

    And no-one says that you have to sit there watching it happen, in any case!

    Most reputable services will have a minimal impact on your PC while backing up. I have been using Angel Backup to backup the PCs and servers in my office and it runs completely transparently in the background.

  6. anonymous 1, not sure I understood what you mean by full system snapshot and volume backups? Care to elaborate?

    Doing anything online means, you can transfer to or from a remote location within reasonable time and assuming you still have online access and remote location is available online.


  7. anonymous 2, why do you use Mozy for backing up docs, music and photos only instead of a service that allows you remote access and capability to share and collaborate with others in addition to providing a second copy of your docs, music and photos?

    One of my pet peeves is the second copy of data that is sitting idle. I rather have a second copy that provides more value than just in case a disaster strikes. This is specifically true of specific types of data like docs and photos.

    For example, I don't use Google Docs for creating and writing documents but I typically upload documents to Google Docs that I may need remotely from another machine or when I travel or share with someone else. This also serves as second copy of my working documents.

    If you are just backing up docs, photos and music, there are better options than just remote backup that can provide additional features and services.

    One day, I will love to have a utility where I can specify certain type of files and web services where they should go to and then synching with remote services happens in the background.


  8. Hoskerism, what is difference between Angel, Carbonite and Mozy beyond pricing?

    Initial backup is a major hurdle to overcome. Recently, one blogger mentioned while advocating online backup that his initial backup at home (forgot the size) took almost three weeks. Can you imagine leaving a notebook/workstation On and for backup for three weeks, I can't.

    Couple of years ago, I met with an online backup service provider who was providing a small NAS so that customers can copy initial backup on NAS and ship them to overcome "long initial backup" resistance. The return rate for NAS was less than 50%. ;-)

    For incremental change backups, your pain is proportional to how large were your changes since last backup and inversely proportional to how big is your pipe.

    As I mentioned in a previous comment, I don't think online backup on its own will cut the mustard for computing devices except for a very small population, a hybrid solution with some sort of data reduction technology is needed. I think online backup has a bigger opportunity with mobile devices and sensor networks.


  9. Not that I disagree with you at all, but the problem with wanting more from the remote backup where you could get additional access are the joker organizations like the RIAA and MPAA.

    They would argue that you are sharing your content or are in the position to share it.

    What I want is remote archiving, not backup. I want to delete it from my home system and I don't want to lose the content in 30 days, as is the case with the Mozy and Carbonite's out there.

  10. I am the first anonymous. I do actually mean ful drive snapshot, which is a sector-level copy of all used sectors on your disk. So, this is not just like copying files from your disk, but rather creating system image that can later be used for BMR (bare-metal recovery). File backups are still good, but they do not allow you to recover your system while it's down. So it is actually interesting for me what do you think about using online storage for home computer BMR.

    BTW, I'm now using Mozy at home (I have a MacBook at home and IBM ThinkPad at work) for my important data backups - and you know, I'm happy with it. Although at work I'm using Acronis solution and I'm happy with it too - but it is backing up my data to our internal storage location. BTW, what do you think about them?

  11. Anonymous 3, commenting on RIAA/MPAA issue is outside my expertise. So lets exclude RIAA/MPAA music and video from this discussion.

    Remote archiving is exactly the term, I was looking for also. Thanks. It is possible with Amazon S3. Of course you cost is proportional to how big your archive becomes and how often you transfer the data to/fro your archive.

  12. ilyarde aka anonymous 1 (always wanted to say that :-). Is online BMR immune to the challenges of online backups? The main hurdles with online BMR are also same - initial image transfer and restore. The extra challenge in online BMR is the availability of extra computer to download BMR for restore unless you are thinking of a different architecture that does away with initial transfer or restore transfer online.

    But thanks for getting my gray cells working again. Can we make online backup/archive/BMR attractive by doing away with either backup or recovery? :-)

    I think I will try to write a blog post on this idea.

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  15. The information was so helpful.Thanks for posting.If it is talking about online backup services then i will say they save the day though they have got cons to on the other hand.I just love the online backup software i use.I wish someone could try it out too and see how it works.

  16. Carbonite is a good option for me. Because I've been using for 18 months. A unique feature is the backup of a computer from a friend just for free.